In October, it's 50 years since the landmark feminist book The Female Eunuch was published. What might be of even more interest to gardeners is a decade later, the women's lib classic's author Germaine Greer wrote a less well remembered book - The Revolting Garden - using the pseudonym Rose Blight. Perhaps Rose Blight needs a reassessment as the funniest garden book ever in an era when earnestness reigns, made worse by the coronavirus crisis and the general worthiness of garden writing.Greer wrote the columns for satirical magazine Private Eye, and her Notting Hill hell of a garden produces some stark contrasts with today's hand-wringing horticulturalists.
Greer/Blight's now rare book includes columns lambasting stinking tomcats, deformed pooches, greedy nurserymen, the greenhouse effect on insect reproduction and the Stygian gloom produced by dusty monsteras and aspidistras, now trendy but to the author "perfect emblems of the futility of life". Shittake mushrooms also get the scornful treatment as "no relation presumably of the Pisstake". She hates everything from children's gardening to tackily named roses, comparing one named after a chemical company chairman's wife, with a matching "excessive number of broken veins".Blight bemoans labour costs defeating the penchant for gaudy public floral bedding schemes, leading to groundcover planting masking "the filth that Londoners call soil". In 2020, many park gardeners have either been picking up tonnes of 'covidiot' litter or delivering food parcels to the needy.
Another contrarian, garden writer Anne Wareham, says Blight-style irreverence is dead and "all must be green, worthy and city-orientated and diverse now". Among Wareham's Rose Blight-style wisdom in her 2015 book Outwitting Squirrels is a recommendation for not growing fruit and vegetables - "if you want to avoid making trouble for yourself in the garden". It's sold 30,000 copies, far more than gardening books, apart from earl of earnestness Monty Don's.
Blight wrote that time spent in the revolting garden was time not spent in earning the money to pay the rates on it. That's fine if you're furloughed. But if you're made redundant, as so many people will be, you need to get on the internet and look for a new job - and to not get distracted looking for gardening advice.In 2013, Dr David Hessayon, the biggest selling gardening author ever with 60 million plus sales, bemoaned the reliance on Google searches, rather than books, by those seeking gardening tips. He won the Garden Media Guild (GMG) lifetime achievement that year. The Dr David Hessayon Garden columnist of the year award for 2020 will be presented at The Savoy on 27 November - apparently. Maybe the GMG knows something we don't? However, don't expect any winner to stray beyond Wareham's green and worthy parameters, whether the award is given out in a posh hotel basement or via a Zoom call.
What would Blight/Greer have said? In the end, her revolting garden is sold "to an accountant, needless to say, or rather, because he is no fool, to his wife. For her now the avalanche of filthy lime tree leaves blankets the back-garden". Surely a cause for delight? No. "I have Hyde Park to walk in instead of my lazaretto of a garden. Why then does my heart ache so?"